The Stay Home, Take Flight Conundrum
Where you shop, how you move around, how you live, it’s easy to streamline your routine. When you hit the road however, everything changes. From the moment you’re instructed to pour the water out of your flask at the gate (airline depending), you’re hit with a wall of plastic bottles, plastic cups, plastic cutlery, plastic everything. Things you’d never consider using when you’re sleeping in your own bed. Try as they might to persuade you, there’s nothing green about airlines, or cars.
Visiting Japan recently – where recycling means burning and plastic coats everything – I was struck by irony: the type of people who care deeply about the planet, also gain the most from circumnavigating it. Bearing this in mind, and in search of personal guidance as much as anything else, I set about asking a few of Patagonia’s most well-travelled and conscious advocates, Dave Rastovich and Heath Joske, what they do to minimise the footprint when they travel, and how the enrichment of travel versus its negative impact on the environment sits with them.
“I’ve always felt conflicted about travelling via planes, trains, cars and powered vessels,” says Patagonia Global Surf Activist Dave Rastovich. “If the journey has, at it’s core, a purpose that aims to educate myself and other humans about an ecological issue, then it feels less destructive. But honestly I have always felt shit about participating in combustion engine travel.”
Heath Joske who, like Rasta, travelled extensively in his formative years chasing a traditional professional surfing career, also admits to feeling conflicted from an early age. “I loved travelling extensively between the ages of 18 and 25, and I felt very blessed to see the world, but I didn't feel I was pulling my weight,” he says. “Flying hundreds of times throughout the year, staying in hotels, eating out daily… I felt that to live a more sustainable life I should be growing my own food, eating locally and minimising travel.”
For straightforward hacks to minimize the waste pilling up, both advocates point to preparation. “We all know to take our own water bottles, drink tap water where possible rather than the bottled crap,” says Dave. Heath adds, “I always have my own drink bottle and often a few snacks for travel. My own ding repair kit, pocketknife and plate. If I’m travelling in Australia the car’s packed with an esky full of food, jerry cans of water, gas cooker, pots and pans…”
When it comes to pointers for living a more conscious existence, whether on the road or otherwise, Heath and Dave both highlight food as a crucial factor. For Dave, foraging and eating seasonably is a great way to minimise your impact whilst abroad. “Eating seasonally and locally, and foraging is always really fun!” he says. “I love finding wild foods in other countries. Sumatra has sweet potato growing everywhere, and the locals just give it to the pigs. I pick the leaves and eat them while I’m there. Europe has berries all over it, same with NZ. Foraging is such a great way to know a place.”
Heath’s lifestyle has changed dramatically from his transient early years, as he now lives a grounded family life in the Great Australian Bight. Despite forsaking some of the freedoms he was afforded as a young man, he says that overall, he feels more at peace with his lifestyle. “We eat more and more from the garden every season,” he says. “We have a flock of chooks and lots of young fruit trees needing love often. The reality is I can't take off for months now. But I love picking fruit and vegetables from my garden and eating my own eggs daily. It's a long process to living sustainably but I feel better about my contribution now.”
When it comes to the broader question of whether the things we gain from travelling and living in a globally connected society is worth the tax on the planet, both men’s current lifestyles answer for them (although it’s worth bearing their well-stamped passports in mind). “I hadn’t left Australia for a few years until we had some family health issues with my partner’s mum in Florida,” says Dave. “Being able to really grow great food at our place and also forage seaweed and fish at our local beach was actually the most successful thing I have ever done! I have never felt such a deep feeling of accomplishment. That has been my most blessed way to live life.”
However, neither considers ‘globalisation’ a dirty word, when pressed. “The Western way of life is so wasteful and has spread its wings a long way now,” says Heath. “However, from the simplest joys of enjoying a different country’s cuisine to emergency relief, the countless lessons learnt overseas, and enormous global trade nowadays, it's very hard not to enjoy the convenience and luxuries that globalisation has afforded us. Truth is we can't go backwards so we should try to nurture cultures that are still intact, and be thankful to be able to experience so much diversity in our current world.”
“We have lots of connectivity and perhaps less connection than ever,” says Dave on the issue. “People in the US and Australia seem very lonely, isolated and overworked. In nearly every direction I look, I don’t see modern technology making the world a more wonderful place. I’m not saying we go back to the Stone Age, but I like to put the tools of technology in their place and pick them up only when truly needed. Our experiment with industrialization and our trial of obsessing with tech has brought in very shitty results. I feel like it’s time to assess the damage, learn from it, and do better. The rad thing right now is that there are many people trying new directions of balance.”
‘Balance’ was bound to end up in the epitaph of a rumination on minimizing the footprint whilst broadening the mind. After all, we’re not trying to be perfect, we’re trying to be better. The fight to prevent a Norwegian oil company from conducting exploratory drilling in the Great Australian Bight has been taken up by surfers around the world with aplomb, but it’s also brought out some predictable counter arguments. Like, how can surfers, who drive and fly and burn as much fossil fuel as anyone, speak out on this issue? It unwittingly uncovers the crux of the matter. If we live by the glass houses rule, then we’re all going to wait out the apocalypse erect in the living room, stones in hand. It’s about education, and the little things that in turn lead to big change, whether that’s finally standing up to Big Oil, or taking your own water bottle when you travel. Ultimately, environmentalism is like CPR: doing something is far better than doing nothing.